Rev. Wright comes out of a long and valued black oratorical tradition: To make the point, exaggerate the point. The technique is not unique to black ministers or black people. But if it does not hew to certain national mythologies, it can be disconcerting, if not downright frightening to white ears. Minister Louis Farrakhan has preached black self-help and personal responsibility as long as Bill Cosby, often in much harsher terms. Yet a Farrakhan endorsement is toxic for a black politician beyond black neighborhoods. The Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons get access to presidents.
And if Jesse Jackson was white, he might have been a former president by now. If George Bush was black, he might have been off parole. If Hillary Clinton hadn't been married to a man satirically referred to as the “first black president,” she might not have moved from Arkansas to the White House to a New York Senate seat. Let us step back, for a moment, from Barack Obama's latest attempt to lead us to a more perfect union and reflect on what got us here. This time. I have to smile when I hear white commentators go apoplectic over some of the more incendiary remarks of Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Clearly they don't have much contact with the black church. Or the contact they have is selective. Either they hitch a wagon to the minister promising black votes in exchange for a few grants, or they scurry out the side door after the choir sings, before the sermon starts. Rev. Wright comes out of a long and valued black oratorical tradition: To make the point, exaggerate the point. The technique is not unique to black ministers or black people. But if it does not hew to certain national mythologies, it can be disconcerting, if not downright frightening to white ears. Minister Louis Farrakhan has preached black self-help and personal responsibility as long as Bill Cosby, often in much harsher terms. Yet a Farrakhan endorsement is toxic for a black politician beyond black neighborhoods. The Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons get access to presidents. The words that matter are the ones powerful white critics choose to hear. The thinking that informs Geraldine Ferraro's logic is more curious. "I think what America feels about a woman becoming president takes a very secondary place to Obama's campaign," Ferraro told a California reporter. "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position." Give the former Democratic nominee for vice president this much: There are some black men who would not be in their positions if not for race. Clarence Thomas comes to mind. There are white women who would not be in their positions but for gender. Clearly, given the firestorm over her remarks, some of us are out of touch with Ferraro's line of reasoning. Ferraro's comments suggest that somehow Hillary Clinton got to where she is solely on her own merits. That her marriage to a former president didn't help, that her role as a former first lady doesn't matter. Bill Clinton's dalliances aside, not just anyone moves to New York state, gets elected senator and uses that as a launching pad to run for president of the United States. Positions do help. But Ferraro's logic implies that Obama, as a black man, has advantages Clinton, as a white woman, does not. Some feminists may think the media have been too soft on Obama, but not one of them has had to address fears founded in history (not to mention real threats) that Clinton might be assassinated if she started winning. Ironically, the biggest political casualty of the recent round of political spats is a white woman. Samantha Power, one of Obama's foreign policy advisers, stepped down after calling Hillary Clinton "a monster." That was a serious self-inflicted wound for the woman who wrote "A Problem from Hell," a history of the country's (and the world's) real and tortured relationship with the problem of genocide. In comparison, Rev. Wright's remarks sound tame. The danger in playing sexism against racism or racism against sexism, hatred against hatred, victim against victim, is the game never ends and nobody wins. If Saddam Hussein had only admitted there were no weapons of mass destruction, maybe we wouldn't have invaded Iraq. If there was a draft instead of an all-volunteer army, maybe Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Perle, Congress wouldn't have been so quick to send young people off to war. Obama's speech arched from the country's long love affair with no-win games when he said, simply, "Not this time." Pam Adams is a columnist with the Peoria Journal Star. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.